Honestly, I shudder to think sometimes that I could have been one of those alarmingly numerous people who never grow out of sixth-form leftism – who decide early in life that they have all the theories they need and no further reflection is required.
Two noteworthy things that have repeatedly appeared in Left-wing paeans to Tony Benn: that he had ‘unshakeable beliefs’; and the idea, as one Tweeter put it, that “principle always outshines policy”.
So: a refusal to change one’s mind no matter what the evidence; and a belief that principles and ideals are separable from, and more important than, practicalities and consequences. Can anybody think of any modes of human thought that have led to more suffering and murder than those two?
Eighteen year-old me would have probably been awed by such steadfast conviction. Current me is just repulsed by it. Arthur and I were just commiserating over our various experiences with fanatical ideologues and how they’d soured us on radicalism (it was amusing to try to fill in a complete outsider on what’s gone on in the online atheist environment). He said:
It sounds to me as if you’ve given yourself a good healthy Oakeshott in the arm, with a bit of Burke and Berlin on the side, to fortify you against the arrogant theoreticians who pull abstract utopias out of their butts and try to impose them on everyone else. That’s pretty much where I’m at. So our guideposts, in the absence of any divine sanction, are a hopeless mix of tradition, intuition, taste, personality quirks, common sense (whatever that is) and the survival instinct, individual and collective–with some Plato and Nietzsche thrown in to make it all seem intellectually respectable. Nothing to write home about, but look at what the alternatives have been.
March 26, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
I like Arthur's "guideposts", but I think he's underselling the idea: I know it's a smorgasbord, but if it's the best we can do then it's gold. I would add that we need to have some degree of faith that we'll be able to tell what a good direction looks like when we find it. Even provisionally. It only seems hopeless because of the false certainties we've all been exposed to that have caused us to have unreasonable expectations thereof. We can be hopeful that we're doing a reasonably good job of being human, without the requirement of certainty. I think that includes being understanding of those who make the mistakes this post is about.